Ask any Texan what two foods could they not live without? Any true Texan will reply...."Chili & BBQ"!

Fortunately for Texans, those two wonderful foods are celebrated at the Texas Men's State Chili Cookoff & Barbeque Championship in Johnson City, March 27th. Home of former president LBJ, who LOVED TEXAS BBQ and was the first president to serve it at his inaugural dinner. This is the seventh consecutive year for the event to be held at the Blanco County Fairgrounds.

While there are many chili and barbeque cookoffs held throughout the state, the Texas Men's State is especially important because it is one of three sanctioned cook offs held in Texas that grants automatic qualification to compete in the famous Terilingua International Chili Championships. Therefore the competition is serious...and for those of us who love to taste test, it's heaven.

While the music and vendors create a party atmosphere on Saturday, March 27, it is Friday night when the drama begins. Cooks spend hours finding the perfect spot to camp out for the event, who know wind prevalence is such an important issue. Some even have superstitions about which spot they need to have for their guaranteed cookoff success!

Next comes the building of the fires. This is such an art form and so important to the results of their recipes that it is almost religious. The fires are stoked all night long as pre- cookoff prep gets under way. But once they feel settled in for the night, there are campfire round robins - friendly cross campfire competition chatter and the biggest tall tales you've ever heard. It's worth a Friday night walk through to truly appreciate the dedication of these cooks - some who've traveled thousands of miles to compete.

As the dawn breaks on Saturday morning there is an excited twinge on the cool crisp breeze of a Hill Country morning. The breeze is exhilarating as it carries the delicious aromas of the various fire pits and cooks excitedly break out the spices, sauces and meats and hit the grills. The music begins to break out, the vendors hawk their lovely Hill Country goodies, and the crowds begin to file into the fair grounds anxiously awaiting the famous "Five minute call", which means five minutes left to make their recipe the winner. The judging begins, and then the eating for all who've come to taste these special treats, which can be a lengthy process, so games of 42 (dominoes), horseshoes and cards break out all over the fair grounds, as well as dancing to the local entertainment. You'll definitely want to play a round of cow chip shuffleboard - it's an authentic Hill Country experience!

When the trophies are handed out some will be surprised as it was their first go round and others are old hats at this and still feel lucky to get the accolade. But all enjoy the day and will do it again next year. This years event will be filmed by the Food Network Channel, so you may even find your five minutes of fame on the Boob Tube!

The championship, held on Saturday, March 27, give cooks the opportunity to qualify for international competition through sanctioning by the Chili Appreciation Society International (CASI) and the Lone Star Barbecue Society. First time cooks are encouraged to enter as they want to keep the organization vibrant. Competition is open to all those who wish to enter. CASI is a 45 Year Old international association dedicated to chili, charity, and fun. Throughout the year, over 600 CASI-sanctioned cookoffs are held in the United States and surrounding territories contributing over $1 million to local charities.